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Jack and Jill and the Feminine Filter and Masculine Mantra

Jack and Jill and the Feminine Filter and Masculine Mantra

This article was jointly written with Michelle Waters, expert on gender issues and women’s leadership.

Jack and Jill went up the hill,

(So far so good, but then suddenly…)

Jack fell down and broke his crown,

And Jill came tumbling after.

When we first heard this as children, Michelle Waters and I took it at face value. It never entered our heads as to why Jack and Jill didn’t continue their upward trajectory, but instead met with some problem that propelled them down again.

Now that we are ‘elders’, we think we finally get it. This rhyme is a metaphor … for patriarchy. As young innocents, kids start climbing – and indeed many of the boys do get closer to the top – but at some point, most climbers, male and female, take a tumble. As bell hooks said, “Patriarchy has no gender”. This tumble may be physical, mental, spiritual, financial, or … tick all of the above.

So what really happened to Jack and Jill during their ascent? We think the rhyme lied – they were never going up to fetch a pail of water. Instead, they were going up to be seduced by patriarchy’s simplistic idea of ‘happiness’, with Jack being lured into drinking the ‘boy’ Kool-Aid, and Jill the ‘girl’ Kool-Aid.

Jack’s elixir ensured he grew into the ‘ideal’ patriarchal man, while Jill’s steered her towards the ‘ideal’ patriarchal woman, an incomplete form of womanhood perfectly suited to the needs of – yes, you guessed it – Jack (who, by the way, ended up being equally incomplete, but in his own dysfunctionally different way). So here they are: Jack with one set of beliefs and behaviours, Jill with another – both prepped and primed to play their respective roles in patriarchal society.

So what exactly is the ‘spell’ that patriarchy casts over girls? It’s what Michelle calls the Feminine Filter, a concept she coined with her co-authors in the book, 'The Orange Line: a Woman’s Guide to Integrating Career, Family and Life'. In essence, the Feminine Filter is:

Do it all.

Look good.

Be nice.


Following these ‘rules’ leads to (amongst other things) a woman who sacrifices her life’s purpose, lowers her career expectations, and is needy, exhausted and risk avoidant. Through their articulation of the Feminine Filter, Michelle and her co-authors exposed three paths of least resistance that countless girls and women follow – often without question – paving the way for their perfect participation in patriarchal society.

Recently, when Michelle was sharing these ideas with me, a question popped into my head – if Jill is conditioned to live through the Feminine Filter, what is the equivalent for Jack? Do guys also have an unholy trinity of guiding principles that push them along their own paths of least resistance? We think they do, and I’ve called it the Masculine Mantra:

Be a hero.

Keep control.

Win at all costs.

According to the Masculine Mantra, ‘father knows best’. Jack sees himself as the provider and protector … the decisive, invincible leader … the all-conquering ‘king of the castle’ entitled to rule over his realm and reap his reward.

While Jack and Jill may be living out different narratives, they share a common problem: the Feminine Filter and Masculine Mantra both create a set of unrealistic expectations and the unfulfilled false self, which in turn often lead to a tumble down the hill. Patriarchy pushes all of us towards a mythical existence totally out of whack with our deepest needs as humans. And totally out of whack with the needs of our planet.

So what’s the point of writing an article like this, and making the video clip ? Simple: to serve as a much needed discussion starter. Within all sorts of organisations, we need to initiate Courageous Conversations on the ways in which patriarchy plays out in everyday life, both personally and professionally. And if a re-working of a nursery rhyme plus concepts such as the Feminine Filter and Masculine Mantra can help you kickstart such a conversation with people important to you, then that’s a step forward.

Through a tailored presentation (Pozzy to Cozzy) plus workshop, Michelle and I are available – either individually or together – to help you erode patriarchal norms within male-dominated leadership teams and organisations. We can help you facilitate Courageous Conversations aimed at transforming beliefs and behaviours that are limiting into those that are liberating.

Now join Michelle and I for an in-depth look at the Feminine Filter and Masculine Mantra, then add your voice to the conversation below.


For Michelle's website, click here.

For Graeme's website, click here.

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